Panchakarma-10 Questions Answered - Ayurveda | Everyday Ayurveda

Panchakarma-10 Questions Answered

By on February 27, 2016
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Panchakarma is the ultimate mind-body healing experience for detoxifying the body, strengthening the immune system, and restoring balance and well-being

Panchakarma is a Sanskrit word that means “five actions” or “five treatments”.  Simply translated, it’s a set of five systematic actions used for the purification of the body. Panchkarma is considered to be the most radical way to cleanse the body, thereby eliminating all the disease causing doshas and toxins.

Panchakarma is used to bring the aggravated doshas into balance. It flushes the accumulated Ama, or “toxins”, from the body using the conventional modes of elimination- via the intestines, sweat glands and urinary tract.

Aacharya Charak, author of the most revered ancient text on internal medicine, has described a wide use of Panchakarma therapy for almost all the major diseases.

This age-old science of purifying the body is not only good for alleviating disease, but is also a useful tool in maintaining excellent health. In fact, Ayurveda advises undergoing Panchakarma at the seasonal junctions to improve digestion and the metabolic processes.

Dr. Anup Thakar, MD (ayu.), from Gujarat Ayurvedic University, is among the most prominent specialists in Panchakarma therapies. He is recognized as one of the few experts in the clinical application of Panchakarma.

Dr. Thakar  kindly agreed to conduct an interview on Panchakarma. Here is what he had to say-

1. Doctor, Panchakarma is the most essential part of Ayurvedic treatments. Could you explain what Panchakarma is exactly, its purpose and benefits?

Anup Thakar: Panchakarma is the process in which systematic cleansing of the body takes place without damaging the tissues. In other words, it can be defined as a bio-purifiacation or “detox” of the body. There are five in number, including Vamana (therapeutic emesis), Virechana (therapeutic purgation), Basti (therapeutic decoction & oil enema), Nasya (therapeutic nasal administration), Raktamokshana (blood letting), and many other allied treatments required as pre and pro-procedures to the Panchkarma treatments.

The purpose of these Panchakarma procedures is to remove toxic substances and waste products from the body.

Here are 3 major purposes:

  1. Preventive – vamana in spring, virechana in autumn, basti in rainy season
  2. Curative – emesis for skin diseases, basti in paralysis or neurological disorders, purgation in liver disorders or pitta disorders.
  3. Rejuvenation – rasayana treatments will be more effective after panchakarma and before a pregnancy for a healthy progeny.

Concerning its benefits, it radically removes the morbific factors of disease from body including, the gross channels (GIT, respiratory tract) up to the subtlest level (like cells, tissues, cell membranes etc.).

Such purification permits the biological system to return to normal, to rejuvenate spontaneously and also facilitates the desired therapeutic effects to treatment administrated thereafter. It eliminates toxins and metabolites from the body, cleans the macro and micro channels and maximizes the absorption of nutrients and drugs.

Thus, this therapy is used in Ayurveda for preservation, maintenance and conservation of health, and promotion of longevity.

2. Panchakarma accesses the most profound levels of our body, mind and soul. How should a patient prepare the bodily tissues adequately before they are cleansed ?

Anup Thakar: Before Panchakarma, a restricted/light diet is consumed. Often patients shift to green gram soup, which is advised to remove Ama, toxins, from the body and to ignite Agni, the digestive power. Drinking of hot water is advised usually for this purpose.

Food which is heavy to digest, not cooked freshly, cold, or causes constipation is prohibited. More over, sex, overeating, late nights, excess physical or mental work, strong exposure to sun, wind, cold weather is also not advisable during Panchakarma.

3. Should Panchakarma be practiced by specific doctors ? 

Anup Thakar: There are many Panchakarma practitioners all over the world. However, a Panchakarma physician who is preferably has a post graduate in Panchakarma is advisable. Ayurveda practitioners having proper exposure and training of Panchakarma therapy, with sufficient experience, also practice Panchakarma. The authenticity of the procedures depends on the physician.

Ideally, Panchakarma should only be done in a hospital under proper supervision. However,  some of the karma can be performed at OPD level.

Whether a patient can continue their daily routine is determine by the physician who plans the specific Panchakarma. There are karmas, or treatments, like emesis or purgation, where hospital stay is required. Whereas, some procedures can be done on OPD base, i.e. without disturbing patients routine, as Shirodhara, Pichu, Matrabasti, or Lepam.

Because it is a procedure for cleansing the body, a kind of tiredness may be experienced by the patient. However, most patients enjoy it. Sometimes patients may have an aversion to some procedures. For example. for some patients to drink 200 ml of medicated bitter ghee at a time is difficult. Sometimes a mild headache or tiredness may arise during interal oleation in high doses. Otherwise, in general, Panchakarma procedures are painless.

4. Doctor, are there any side effects when undergoing a Panchakarma? After how many days can we feel the benefits of it ?

Anup Thakar: For scientific and authentic procedures, there are no side effects. However, for the procedure to be successful, its success depends on physician as well as the patient.

There is a list of Do’s and Dont’s in Panchakarama, which has to be followed strictly. If the patient does not follow the instructions, then he or she may face problems or unpleasant effects. If the procedure goes smoothly, then patients do not have to suffer.

The benefits of Panchakarma are long lasting with some do’s and don’t s which patients have to follow. The lasting effects of Panchakarma are minimum 1-2 years. It may last for more than 2 years if the patient follows the Pathya-pathaya(Do’s and Dont’s), after treatment.

5. How often should a Panchakarma be done ?

Anup Thakar: It depends. In general a healthy person should undergo Panchakarma at least once a year. For a diseased person (according to conditions), it may vary: twice a year for skin disease or possibly more, depending on the severity. Continuously, for at least 3 months, for paralysis and other renowned neurological conditions and on a regular basis for treatment of obesity.

6. Is Panchakarma advisable for any disease or imbalance? 

Anup Thakar: Panchakarma is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat almost all diseases, particularly those that are chronic, metabolic, degenerative, non-infectious or stress-related in origin.

Panchakarma has been used to treat allergies, asthma, arthritis, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, colitis, high cholesterol, depression, diabetes, digestive disorders, heart disease, hypertension, immune problems, chronic inflammation, insomnia, nervous disorders, obesity, skin problems, chronic ulcers etc.

To support healing and recovery, Panchakarma may also be used alongside intensive conventional treatments, including chemotherapy and surgery. It is recommended for sportsmen in the preparation period. Panchakarma is also used for  rehabilitation in the cases of psycho-emotional traumas. It is safe and non-toxic. It can be used as prevention and to increase general well-being.

However, Panchakarma is limited in treating traumatic injuries, infections and conditions requiring immediate surgery or invasive procedures. In order to achieve better results without any complications, these treatments should be carried out under the strict supervision of institutionally qualified Panchakarma physician.

7. What about children ? Can Panchakarma be practiced at any age? 

Anup Thakar: There are no age restrictions. For acute conditions, such as cerebral palsy, a basti, massage, nasya, or shiropichu can be done at 6 months or 1 year of age.

In General, 18- 60 years old is the age criteria for Panchakarma. Virechana or vamanaare is usually not practiced after 60 years old.  Basti can be done after 80s. Many of the Panchakarma treatments, like shirodhara, pichu, matrabasti, can be performed at any age.

A daily massage should be done on a healthy baby with specific medicated oils, such as bala lakshadi taila, bala ashwagandhadi taila or dhanwantharam taila.

There are a variety of procedures to do on babies. Nasya to enhance IQ.  Shiropichuto reduce ADHD. Oil massage to increase weight. Dry powder massage to reduce weight.

Some procedures are very helpful for autism, asthma, recurrent respiratory infections, neuro-muscular diseases and psychological disorders of children.

8. How is Panchakarma perceived within the Indian culture?

Anup Thakar: Panchakarma has very deep culture roots in India. It is explained in the Bhagvatgita and Rugvda as well.

There are some traditions of Panchakarma in India, and it’s followed by families since long ago.

Traditionally, Panchakarma is followed by people everywhere in India. It is common for them to practice a daily body massage and head massage before bathing.  A simple diet of kitchari is consumed on a regular basis. They often use peya (rice with water) in their diet when undergoing purgation, especially on the holidays.

9. Is there an  equivalent procedure to Panchakarma in Modern medicine?

Anup Thakar: No. To the best of my knowledge, no therapy in any other type of medicine is similar to Panchakarma. It’s a unique scientific and natural way of biopurification or detox of the body.

Stomach wash has a different effect than vamana. Diarrhea is not so similar to virechana. Enema is a different concept than basti. Nasal drops are not as effective as nasya. Panchakarma has different concept, medicines, pharmacodynamic, kinetic and effects.

10. What is the point of view of conventional medicine on Panchakarma?

Anup Thakar: Recently, followers or practitioners of conventional medicine have started to accept Panchakarma. This is due to extensive research and clinical evidence on the benefits of Panchakarma. Many specialists on medicine are referring the patients for Panchakarma.

Thank you, Doctor Anup Thakar!

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About Armanda Dos Santos

Armanda Dos Santos is a French Ayurvedic practitioner and an author. She teaches Ayurveda in France and Ankara (Turkey) and is based in Paris. She founded Ayurveda Magazine France, and co-founded the Nature’s Diet Magazine (UK). Since 2016, she's the new Executive Editor of JAHM (the international Journal of Ayurveda and Holistic Medicines).


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